The Iowa-AAP has registered against new legislation (SF 254) restricting a health professional’s communications with patients about firearms. The legislation provides that a licensed health professional “shall not inquire about or otherwise request information about a patient’s or client’s ownership or possession of firearms.” A health professional violating this proscription could be guilty of a serious misdemeanor – punishable by up to a one-year sentence and fine of $1,875.
If enacted, SF 254 would be only the second state law imposing such a constraint on health professional communications with patients. The law disregards research showing the important role pediatricians and other physicians can play in protecting children from firearm injury or death. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “asking a parent a question about gun ownership can open up an opportunity to educate parents about potential dangers to which their child is exposed.” Such “anticipatory guidance” is a “major component” of pediatric care helping patients and their families “know what to watch for in the future.”
Further, the Iowa bill likely violates the First Amendment Right to free speech – as Florida just learned after six costly years of unsuccessful litigation defending a similar law. A 2011 Florida law proscribed medical professionals from inquiring about a patient or family member’s ownership of a firearm or ammunition unless relevant to personal safety. It also directed that medical professionals refrain from “unnecessarily harassing” patients about firearms.
Soon after the law’s enactment, doctors and medical groups secured a federal court order enjoining its enforcement. Subsequent court and appellate actions led to a February 16 decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals finding that the Florida law violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. In a 10-1 decision and 90-page decision, the court also declared the “unnecessary harassment” provision unconstitutionally vague under the Fourteenth Amendment.
The court decision is a landmark one, with implications beyond Florida — as noted in a New York Times article. In a statement expressing delight with the court decision, the American Academy of Pediatrics president Fernando Stein, M.D. declares, “Pediatricians routinely counsel families about firearm safety just as they offer guidance on seat belt use, helmets and parental tobacco use to reduce the risk of injury to children where they live and play. These are all topics that families should feel very comfortable talking about with their pediatrician.”
As of February 18, Blank Hospital, the Iowa Medical Society, and the Iowa Psychological Association have also registered against SF 254, which has been referred to the Senate Human Resources Committee. A subcommittee has not been appointed.
Update: This legislation did not advance.